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Kids are notorious for being picky eaters, but there's another kind of eater who's just as fussy: the picky adult. Despite fewer histrionics, the picky adult can be just as stubborn as the picky kid. One has to wonder: Are picky eaters perversely choosy, or do they honestly dislike a greater number of foods than the average person? With the help of food writer Melissa Clark, who has penned 18 cookbooks with star chefs like Daniel Boulud and David Bouley, F&W decided to get to the bottom of this.

First, we selected a panel of eight tasters, who ranged in age and pickiness. Our pickiest eaters were by far the most vocal. "I can look at a food and know I won't like it right away," declared Shanna Henry Phillips, age seven. Ethan Moszkowski, nine, agreed on the importance of appearance: He hates orange foods. Chris J. Callahan, 26, co-founder of AlmanacMagazine.com, just might be the pickiest eater we know. "Adventurous for me would be trying a grape," he said (the only fruit he has ever eaten is an apple). Karen Naber, 39, a financial analyst, likes only "the very basic," which means "no olives, peppers, onions or anchovies."

Among our more adventurous eaters was Sylvie Palmer, seven, who has her mom, F&W's editor-in-chief Dana Cowin, to thank for introducing her to esoterica like beef tongue and cheek. Dale Saferstein, nine, adores shellfish like steamers and mussels. Simon Andrews, 34, a food stylist, has eaten braised lung in New York City's Chinatown. Megnut.com blogger Meg Hourihan credits her adventurous palate to her family's "no thank you portion," a rule stipulating that there could be no outright refusals at the dinner table. Blubber is next on her list of foods to try.

For the F&W experiment, our panel was asked to rate 10 dishes created by Clark—some "safe" (with mild-flavored ingredients like mozzarella and corn), others "risky" (with strong-flavored items like fish sauce and blue cheese). The results? Both picky and adventurous eaters gave the top score to the safe Pork Milanese, with a crispy Parmesan and bread crumb crust. Surprisingly, risky dishes like the spicy, pungent rice salad with merguez sausage won over several picky eaters—even Chris. Shanna, who lists broccoli among her least favorite foods, said she loved it dipped in a garlicky, caper-packed tapenade. And Karen, who said she hated onions, actually liked them caramelized in the cheesy chicken quesadillas.

Because Clark's risky recipes were tasty enough to convert our finicky panelists, we conclude that picky eating lies more in preconceptions than actual matters of taste. We're also convinced that what ultimately determines the popularity of a dish is not safe or risky ingredients, but whether the flavors and textures come together deliciously. Our advice to picky eaters: Stop complaining and start eating.

Published August 2007
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